The heroes of Westfield Sydney

Those who took on the knifeman are the best of humanity.

Tim Black

Tim Black

Topics Politics World

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The massive Westfield Sydney shopping centre is normally packed on Saturday afternoons. But due to the start of the school holidays in Australia, this Saturday it was particularly busy. There were hundreds of people there, including many families and kids.

Stood among the throng that warm, autumnal afternoon was a man in shorts and Australia’s national rugby-league jersey. We now know that this was 40-year-old Joel Cauchi, an itinerant with a history of mental-health issues and an obsession with knives. At a little past 3pm, Cauchi left Westfield, before returning 10 minutes later. It was then that he pulled out a long blade and began stabbing people – particularly, it seems, women. In the carnage that followed, he killed five women and one man and injured 12 others. Cauchi was soon shot dead by a police officer.

It was a senseless, gut-wrenching horror. And it could have been so much worse, given the crowds of people within an arm’s length of the deranged, knife-wielding Cauchi. That it wasn’t is down to the courage of members of the public – and a solitary police woman.

These strangers could have fled or, in the case of the cop, waited for reinforcements. Doing so would be completely in line with the ‘don’t be a hero’ mantra of our risk-averse times. They could have retreated, whipped out their smartphones and recorded the lethal violence at a safe distance, before uploading the footage to a social-media platform of their choosing.

But they didn’t. They didn’t think principally of themselves (or their online profiles). They did what they believed was right – and they did so in spite of the clear and present threat to their own lives.

There was the dad who, seeing Cauchi coming, decided to confront him, allowing his partner and children time to escape. There was the man, since identified as French national Damien Guerot, who stood up to him on an escalator. Video footage shows Guerot warding Cauchi off with a plastic bollard. Thanks to Guerot’s quick thinking, Cauchi was unable to reach a children’s play area on the next level.

And then of course there was Amy Scott, the police officer who single-handedly brought Cauchi’s rampage to an end. Without any sort of back-up, Scott pursued him through the shopping centre before eventually coming face-to-face with him on floor five. After he lunged at her with his knife, Scott shot and killed him.

These courageous individuals prevented Cauchi from causing even more suffering. They were prepared to put their own lives on the line in order to protect the lives of others. This is heroism proper, heroism as it ought to be understood – the act of risking everything in pursuit of the greater good.

We’ve seen this type of remarkable, everyday fortitude countless times before. Indeed, five years ago, a few hundred metres from Westfield Sydney, another stabbing spree was brought to an end by the courage of members of the public. A man had stabbed two women, killing one, before a bystander, armed only with a wooden chair, intervened. With the help of others, he managed to subdue the attacker, pinning him to the pavement with chairs and a milk crate until police arrived.

And we’ve seen the British public show similarly remarkable heroism on countless occasions in the past few years. At London Bridge in 2017, when three Islamists rammed a van into pedestrians, before jumping out armed with knives and strapped with fake suicide vests, citizens and tourists alike took on the killers with bottles, brooms and stools. At the second London Bridge attack, in 2019, a group of men armed with a fire extinguisher, a pole and, most improbably of all, a narwhal tusk managed to hold off terrorist Usman Khan, who had just fatally stabbed two people, until he was shot by police.

So, while we should applaud and admire the heroes of Westfield Sydney, we shouldn’t be surprised by their actions. Time and again, ordinary people reveal extraordinary depths of bravery. Their example should never cease to inspire us.

Tim Black is a spiked columnist.

Picture by: X.

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Topics Politics World


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